The Apostles’ Creed (2)
The Father Almighty
Jesus of Nazareth called God his Father and he taught us to do the same.
Knowing God as Father is found in the Old Testament.
Deut 32:6 Is not he your father your Creator? Has he not made you, and established you?
Jer 3 : 4 My Father, my friend from my youth
Psalm 103:13 Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him.
There is however distance between this understanding of God as Father and the people of God, distance which was overcome in Jesus whose relationship with God as Father was much more intimate.
Matthew 6 : 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6 : 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Matthew 6 : 9 Our Father who is in heaven
Matthew 18 :10 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
John 10 : 30 I and the Father are one.
John 17 : 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
Famously Jesus also said John 14 : 6 , "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. And there in so many words is the unique claim of Christianity and the meaning of the incarnation. To know God as God is shared by many throughout history and throughout the world today. To know God as Father is the Christian contribution to human knowledge of God. It is Jesus’ contribution to human knowledge of God.
Jesus also used the more familiar term Abba – Dad or Daddy. Mark 14 : 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” St Paul also used this intimate term. Romans 8 : 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption as cnhildren. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” and Galatians 4 : 6 “Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” This is categorically different from Islam’s Allah. It is different from Hinduism’s many gods. Buddhism has no god as such and we have seen the development of understanding from Judaism’s God to that of Christianity in Jesus. The foolish and damaging political equalising of so-called ‘religious’ claims by Tony Blair in his time of government has diminished Christianity in the land. Standards of criticism, discernment and evaluation necessary in all walks of life were abandoned in order to appease Muslims. We are now where we are, the worse off. Christianity has suffered much from the shallowness of political leaders in our recent history, David Cameron being another who thought he knew better than 2000 years of living Christian faith.
Dave Bilborough’s little chorus expresses contemporary evangelical relationship with God. ‘Abba Father, Let me be yours and yours alone. May my will for ever be evermore your own. Never let my heart grow cold, never let me go. Abba Father, let me be yours and yours alone’. Most of us here did not grow up with this sense of God. Protestant Christianity in Scotland over the last 460 years was God centred than than Christ centred. We knew the phrase ‘the fear of God’ well. We associated it with another phrase we heard as children ‘wait till your father gets home’. Church of Scotland services began with a Psalm from the Old Testament. Even CH4 reflects that practice – the Psalms are at the front of the hymn book. The General Assembly Holy Communion service begins with ‘Ye gates lift up your heads on high’. It never begins with ‘Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it’. The Iona Community’s worship and hymns have humanised Church of Scotland liturgy and have eroded the sense of awe of God in our history as a Church. These hymns reflect Scotland’s God centred version of Christianity and they are without the intensity and assurance of the evangelical revival hymns which focus very much on Jesus Christ as Living and Present Lord.
The women singing in the choirs in Songs of Praise Choir of the Year Competition have no problems calling God ‘Father’. Spiritually liberated in Jesus Christ they rejoice in the Fatherhood of God. But feminists today have taken against the patriarchal model of God in the Old Testament. Those with any interest in God want to redress the Bible from a feminist point of view. Describing God inclusively as Mother is a starting point and then acknowledging that ‘wisdom’ in the Old Testament is female going on to express the influence of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The Catholic tradition has a high place for Mary calling her Mother of God, almost enlarging the Trinity to accommodate her.
But the extreme American feminist Mary Daly, herself a renegade Roman Catholic, (1928 – 2010) had no truck with any of this. She envisaged the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the all-male three in one – as an eternal homosexual orgy. She argued that to call God "father" is to make fathers gods, excusing all kinds of horrors from religious totalitarianism to domestic violence. "The character of Vito Corleone in The Godfather is a vivid illustration of the marriage of tenderness and violence so intricately blended in the patriarchal ideal," she wrote in her book Beyond God the Father.
If we think of God as father in human only terms, we miss the point. God in the Apostles’ Creed is the Father Almighty. That makes clear that God is not being modelled on human fathers who are certainly not almighty. Father is not male parent but originator, creator. And, of course this link is expressly made – the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. This is language to try to describe the power of creation as we know it, its enormous mind-boggling scale and age and existence of earth, 3rd rock from the sun and human sentient and conscious life, unique to us at this moment in time.
But it is the Father Almighty who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. It is the almighty dimension that is the source of the virgin birth – virgin conception, the miracles of Jesus, His resurrection. These form a consistency that you would expect from the almighty creator. Extraordinarily and uniquely, Jesus describes this God in Luke 12 :6-7 so intimately “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”. Even if this is a rabbinical exaggeration, the point is made. God is not distant, remote, uncaring. God is not an absent father. God is not a deserter of his creation, his people. God the Father holds us in the palm of his hand and takes the trouble to count the hairs on our heads.
It was Paul who gave us a clue. He taught that to be in Christ, to be obedient to Jesus Christ, to be a servant of Jesus Christ was to find perfect freedom. Feminist objections to male patriarchy, to male dominance in the Scriptures, to male imagery and to male dominated churches miss this point. God as Father is way above human male gender. It is not about that at all. To filter rejection of God through female gender philosophy is to commit the same fault that is being criticised. Jesus said, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). The life of God the Father is far beyond human sexual polarity. But it is not far beyond being Almighty. That remains. That is what we will find out in eternal life.
A Church of Scotland minister at Rhu near Helensburgh called John McLeod Campbell in the early 19th century tried to encourage his people to trust in the love of God rather than in the judgement of God. He taught a kind of universal salvation which was different from the doctrines of the elect in the Calvinistic tradition. He was defrocked. It was said of him that he was a fine man but that ‘he diverged’. He wrote theology and was in effect reinstated later in life. One of his lovely descriptions of God was ‘the Father of souls’. I use the phrases ‘Father of my soul’, ‘Father of our souls’. The word Father expresses the incarnational knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. God is not just the creator of souls, nor the almighty creator of souls. He is the Father of souls. God is of course greater than we are in every respect as men and as women.
‘Father’ has almost become a bad word in our society today: it appears too often to be coterminous with abuse, violence, desertion and abandonment. For some children it might be difficult to think of God as father. That may not be a good or pleasant image in some children’s minds. But we know that there is a huge difference between our feelings about our male parents and our feelings about the Living God we worship as Father. We are well able to distinguish these. And love of God as Father is a healing and fulfilling experience for everyone and perhaps especially for those who have not known the love of a good male parent.
Do you know God as Father? It does not always seem that God is that close. On Calvary Jesus prayed ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ but his last words were ‘Father into your hands I commit my spirit’. God had not forsaken Jesus at all. We know that now.
In Jesus God the Father was united with us His people on earth. That is the story of Jesus Christ. That is the Christian story. I believe in God the Father Almighty. No other language describes our relationship with our Maker better. We are given the gift of loving God as Father Almighty in return. This personal one-to-one relationship carries through life and into the joy of heaven.